Where are you most productive?
Is that a fair question? How do you know? You probably know where you feel most productive, but that may not be where you are most productive, particularly if you are someone who does cognitive non-routine work (knowledge work).
Surveys and studies on the subject abound. Here are just a couple of samples:
Despite half (50 percent) of the British workforce saying they are equipped with the right tools and technology to enable them to work anywhere, half (50 percent) of respondents to a new survey stated that remote working can make them feel stressed, isolated or lonely (43 percent) and over half (53 percent) said that working out of the office makes them feel disconnected from colleagues.
The survey from Peldon Rose, found that two-thirds (66 percent) of British workers say they work most productively in the office compared with a quarter (26 percent) who work most productively at home. The survey results also underline how vital close working relationships with colleagues are to employees’ happiness, wellbeing and productivity with nine in 10 (91 percent) office workers stating they value their friendships within the workplace and 80 percent crediting their friendships with colleagues with helping them to be more productive at work – something they feel boosts their productivity even more than personal technology (66 percent).
On the other side of the argument:
A number of different studies conducted by both big companies and civil society organizations show that remote employees are, indeed, more productive.
The most important findings include performing better and faster the same type of jobs as office workers, taking less sick leave, and working during sick days from home. Distributed team members also show better engagement with the work and report higher levels of personal satisfaction and happiness, which also can feed in the loop of their productivity.
Even skeptical studies on telecommuting, such as the ones done by the California State Polytechnic University, prove that productivity gains from remote work are no less than 10%.
So, how do we know remote workers are truly more productive? Well…
All studies point out that remote workers are more productive than their office counterparts.
In response to the above report, a colleague recently put out this survey on twitter:
Unfortunately I couldn’t give the response to the twitter survey that I wanted because for me, the answer to the productivity and place question is – it depends. It depends on what non-routine cognitive work I’m doing. If I’m writing a report or doing some training, I prefer to be at home. If I’m working interactively with a set of people, then working face-to-face is definitely more productive.
What I need, and what most knowledge workers need, is the ability to be as productive as possible in the places where we choose to work.
Our expectation about what we can do at home and what we can do in the office or in the coffee shop has changed a lot. It’s not that long ago that email was something you only did in the office because you couldn’t access it from anywhere else. It used to be acceptable for the technology experience at home to be degraded from the technology experience in the office, but that is no longer the case.
For many of us the technology experience is better at home than in the office, primarily because of better network access and superior location flexibility. This shift has meant that our expectation of the office has changed. We now expect compelling experiences that match the technical experiences we get at home with the advantages that office working brings.
As an example of the challenges ahead, my colleague Stuart Downes recently posted The future workplace is contextual. In this post Stuart talks about how smart devices are entering our homes at a pace unimaginable just a few years ago. As we come to rely on these devices for our normal productivity, we will expect the same experiences in our office life.
In a follow-up post Stuart uses the example of lights responding to the events in our calendar. It’s a slightly frivolous example, but imagine a situation where you normally work from home and come to expect the lights to flash when you have a meeting scheduled in your calendar. What’s going to happen when you go into the office? How many meetings are you going to miss?
Another example could be walking into a meeting room at our shared working location (office) and having the room “know” the purpose of the meeting, who we need to connect to, the material we’ll be presenting, etc. Most of this information will come from our personal digital assistant, which will need to access the room to configure it for us. To do this our personal digital assistant will need to talk to the corporate digital assistant, or the location digital assistant. We will come to regard locations that don’t provide these capabilities as low productivity places.
This is a technology blog, so I’ve focused on the technology influencing the place, but there are many factors about a place that influence productivity. The article on the British survey makes particular reference to relationships as an example of these influences:
“The survey findings reveal that the remote working trend has come full circle. Office workers are clearly seeing the personal and professional benefits of working alongside colleagues and the drawbacks of isolated working, and they are virtually and physically returning to the office.”
Where are you most productive? For me, it depends.
Graham Chastney is a Technologist in CSC’s Global Infrastructure Services. He has worked in the arena of workplace technology for over 25 years, starting as a sysprog supporting IBM DISOSS and DEC All-in-1. Latterly Graham has been working with CSC’s customers to help them understand how they exploit the changing world of workplace technology. Graham lives with his family in the United Kingdom.